Note: The NBA celebrates NBA75 roster players almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is John Havlicek of the Celtics. This story about Havlicek originally appeared in the December 7, 1963 issue of The Sporting News under the title “Havlicek Wins First Place at Celt Galaxy.”
BOSTON, Mass – Teams in the National Basketball Association draft in the reverse order of their won and lost records at the end of each season. It’s a trick designed to produce a leveling process in which the weakest clubs shoot the best college players first and the strongest teams take what’s left.
But it is not a foolproof system because the human element is involved. Coaches and CEOs have yet to guess who the best players are. And while everyone can see an Elgin Baylor, not everyone can correctly evaluate a John Havlicek.
In 1962, all NBA teams had a chance to select Havlicek ahead of defending champion Boston Celtics, who chose ninth. The question is: Who made the mistake? And because?
“No one was really wrong,” said Red Auerbach, coach of the Boston Celtics. “Havlicek was a nationally recognized star at Ohio State. But most teams that year were looking for the big man. John is not 6-5 and there had to be questions about whether he could play the corner.
“Of the eight players ahead of Havlicek (Bill McGill, Zelmo Beaty, Paul Hogue, Len Chappell, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere, Wayne Hightower and Leroy Ellis), none were under 6-7. Several were 6-9 or better and McGill, for example, had averaged 38 points per game in Utah.
“The reason the Celtics took John was because of his ability to run and play defense. We thought we could show you the rest. We didn’t realize it at the time, but what we got was a young Frank Ramsey.
“John has great tenacity of purpose. He’s not as ‘cute’ as Ramsey, who gives his rivals that baby-faced look and then clings to his pants when they try to shoot. But he can come off the cold bench and get a lot of it. quick points.
“He’s easy to train because his attitude is perfect. The best way to get along with me is to do what I say and John understands me quite well. I like players who hate to lose and Havlicek is the type to get upset when things are not. “. not going well.
“On another team, John would play more, he would probably be a regular. But I doubt he’ll ever start for the Celtics. He’s too valuable to do Ramsey’s old job.
“It really doesn’t matter which five players start your ball game. It’s the guys on the court at the end that really count.
“Havlicek has played mostly in the backcourt this year. With the addition of Willie Naulls and Ramsey, I haven’t needed him up front. But even though he’s taller than most guards, he has all the reactions and moves. quick a little man.
“Basketball is a game of touch and playing in the pros, in addition to a lot of hard work, has sharpened John’s game. People often ask me if he will improve. Good grief, I think the guy is pretty good right now. “
One of the things the Celtics missed when Bill Sharman resigned was a guy who could do defensive work with the likes of Hal Greer from Philadelphia and Jerry West from Los Angeles.
Havlicek can make that kind of contribution without getting into trouble. His ability to throw fumbles has also helped the Celtics’ counterattack.
“I used to think this was a coincidence,” Auerbach volunteered, “but now I know better. John was just taking his own breaks.”
A 14-point-per-game scorer as a rookie, Havlicek has been approaching the 20 mark this year, with a start-of-season record of 28 against Cincinnati.
When asked for an explanation, John attributed his improvement to a great deal of confidence. “Last year, I was afraid to take a photo. This year, no.
“You know, when you join a team like the Celtics, you can’t help but wonder how you’ll fit in. Before coming to Boston, I auditioned as a winger with the Cleveland Browns professional soccer team.
“I have no complaints about the treatment I received, but the veteran Browns players hardly spoke to the rookies.
“It was almost like there was a line. They stayed on their side and we stayed on ours.
“I thought it could be that way with the Celtics. It wasn’t. Not only was I greeted warmly, but several players went out of their way to help me. I also liked Auerbach’s direct approach.
“He told me if he could run, block and play defense, he might have a job. Red is tough, but he’s also fair.
“Bob Cousy was a huge help to me too. At first I couldn’t believe it was real. I knew Cousy was good, but I never realized how good he was until I started playing with him.
“Cousy took me aside one day and told me that I was overprotecting the ball, that if I didn’t stop turning sideways towards the man covering me, I would never get a pass.
“Bob told me to practice using my left and right hand and to bring the ball to the ground facing my opponent. Otherwise, I could never see the free man properly.”
“I’m not saying the Celtics wouldn’t have won in the East last year without Havlicek,” Cousy said, “but it certainly would have been more difficult. In my opinion, John was the most consistent member of the team.”
The fact that John lost a close vote for Rookie of the Year to Chicago’s Terry Dischinger (now Baltimore) prompted Celtics owner Walter Brown to give Havlicek a $ 200 bonus. This was the same money Dischinger received. in the league for winning the award.
“I did,” Brown said, “because the whole thing seemed extremely unfair to me. Dischinger was a great rookie, but for a while he was available only on weekends and performed for a last-place team.
“I know what happened. The writers are looking to see who scored the most points. They couldn’t appreciate the importance of Havlicek’s overall game.”